Last night was the formal opening day of my school’s new Design Lab. The board of trustees was having their annual meeting, and we inaugurated the new space as our design lab, and the old space as our new community room and ‘small auditorium’. It was a nice evening with a lot of special guests, parents, and even a few students and former students. A great time was had by all. I think I gave nine mini-tours of the new lab.
The comment of the day went to the parent who looked around at all the tools and materials in the new space, and said, perfectly sincerely, “I’m amazed that you bought all these tools and all this stuff and set up this room in just a few weeks.” I had to correct her, though. I replied, “No, we didn’t buy any new tools or new stuff. This is all the stuff that we had in the old room. It’s just that the set-up of the old room prevented you from seeing what we had.” She was speechless — you could almost see the realization dawn on her face that we have had this amazing program for five years, but that it was buried behind an ugly facade. My lady, who reads tarot cards, once had a reaction from a client who said, “You, ma’am, you’re the real deal and you know what you’re talking about… but you hide it behind a veneer of pure snake-oil.” And that’s what our program was. We were running an amazing program, but it was behind a veneer of disorganization — scavenged milk crates, cardboard boxes, salvaged furniture. And now all of that veneer has been pulled off, to reveal the stellar and amazing work behind the scenes. Everyone can see what we’re doing, and they are frankly amazed.
In that context, I was working on a clever little project for our Game Wizard Workshop series: making the tiles or bones for a game of dominoes. Now, normally dominoes are 1/4″ thick or greater, but I’ve found that kids have a little difficulty cutting 28 dominoes exactly the same size and thickness and shape; and it gets expensive in terms of materials. So we’re using this very thin basswood as a replacement, so that kids get used to the idea of playing Dominoes the game, rather than setting up dominoes-as-Rube-Goldberg Machine.
Besides, the Game Wizard Workshop series is really about learning ways of doing things faster and better; and the purpose of this workshop is to teach kids the importance of the JIG.
No, not the sailor’s dance that accompanies the hornpipe. No, I mean that nifty little piece of wood in the center of the photograph, just below the checklist of pieces to produce. The little block of wood with crossed ink lines and holes drilled in it. That’s the Jig for producing the pips and lines on a domino.
That one piece, that sample tile with holes in it, took twenty minutes to make. Part of it is that I broke that piece twice in the process of making it.
But once it was made, it took me ten minutes to mark 28 dominoes. While without the jig, it might have taken me 20 minutes for each domino.
And this is one of those key concepts that I want to get across to my students: that if you have a repetitive task which requires a lot of attention to detail and slight variations from part to part (like a domino tile), you want a tool that allows you to duplicate the parts fairly rapidly, so that you can move on to next-steps like finishing and completion.
As an aside — I think it’s interesting that I used the sand-reckoner’s diagram, or a variant on it, to produce this jig. The Sand Reckoner’s Diagram is an ancient tool for dividing a rectangle’s sides into three, four, or five parts — yielding either nine, twelve, fifteen, sixteen, twenty, or twenty-five proportional parts! I think many of my colleagues in the Design Thinking / Maker movement greatly underestimate the importance of practical geometry work in their training; and when we move next year to having embedded Maker time in the curriculum, I’m going to make sure that the homework, such as it is, includes practical training in geometry.